MONTGOMERY — The Alabama House of Representatives voted Thursday to repeal a 1971 law that determines how Calhoun County distributes its gas tax — a bill that could make the county $300,000-per-year richer, and the county's cities that much poorer.
The House voted 29-2, with 49 abstentions, in favor of a bill that would require Calhoun County to give only 10 percent of the proceeds from its gasoline tax to the county's cities and towns. Most counties do share only 10 percent, but state law requires Calhoun County to give 17.5 percent of gas tax proceeds to cities.
County Administrator Ken Joiner said the county and local mayors agreed, back in the early 1970s, that the county should give an additional 7.5 percent to the cities to help them with infrastructure needs. Over the next four decades, he said, the county gave cities more than $10 million that wouldn't have been paid out if the Calhoun County followed the same 10 percent formula as other neighbors.
A few years ago, Joiner said, the state comptrollers office told county officials they didn't have to pay the counties at the additional rate. So the county dropped to the 10 percent level.
"The cities didn't even notice," Joiner said.
The comptroller's office later reversed its decision, Joiner said, forcing the county to pay the cities roughly $600,000 for past years.
Joiner said the county needed the money, because the tax base in the cities has grown faster than in the county. He said the money, about $300,000 per year, must he spent on roads, by state law — but that it could free up funds to help the county pay for its 800-Mhz police and fire department radios.
Rep. Barbara Boyd, R-Anniston, the bill's sponsor, said it was only fair to return the county to the same funding level as other counties.
"We know they've not been getting the funding they should for a long time," Boyd said.
Anniston's mayor agreed.
"We agreed that we're not going to fight it," he said. He said returning the money to the county "seemed like the right thing."
Rep. Koven L. Brown, R-Jacksonville, and Rep. Randy Wood, R-Saks, co-sponsored the bill. But Rep. Steve Hurst, R-Munford, voted against the bill.
Hurst said the bill would cost Oxford $77,000 per year. Hurst, whose district includes Oxford, said the City Council had asked him to vote against the bill.
"You've got to represent the people who sent you," he said.
Hurst refused to sign the bill out of committee. In past sessions, the opposition of one local lawmaker was usually enough to keep a local bill from reaching the floor. But Hurst has been trumped twice this year by the Local Legislation Committee. Earlier this year, the committee went around him to send an Anniston Sunday alcohol sales bill to the full House.
Hurst and Rep. Johnny Mack Morrow, D-Red Bay, were the only lawmakers to vote against the bill. Morrow said later that his vote was a mistake. He said he was discussing a different bill with a colleague when the Anniston bill came up. At that point, he said, another representative approached.
"He said ‘Do you support the bill’ and I said ‘No,’" Morrow said. "So he reached over and voted me no."
Lawmakers often ask colleagues to cast votes for them when they're standing away from their desks, which are equipped with voting machines.
Boyd's bill moves on to the Senate for consideration.
Local legislators moved a number of bills through the House Thursday, including:
A bill by Wood to make the East Alabama Community Development Corporation exempt from sales taxes. The bill passsed 35-0 with 53 abstentions. Boyd, Brown, Wood and Hurst all voted for the bill.
A bill by Wood to exempt school systems in Calhoun County from the state bid law when they build athletic facilities that cost less than $100,000. The bill passed 36-0 with 46 abstentions. Brown, Boyd, Hurst and Wood all voted for the bill.
A bill by Brown to allow the State Employees Insurance Board to buy group insurance. The bill passed 98-0 with no abstentions. Brown, Boyd, Hurst and Wood all voted for the bill.
A bill by Brown to require funeral service operators to clearly and accurately advertise the prices of caskets. Passed 96-0 with no abstentions, with Brown, Boyd Hurst and Wood all voting yes.
All four of those bills originated in the House and are now headed to the Senate.
Capitol & statewide reporter Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.